Surrounded and informed by the nature of the west of Ireland, craftsman Éamonn O’Sullivan creates woodenwares based on ancient European craft traditions. There is beauty in simplicity and functionality and it’s this no-frills attitude that drives Éamonn to place his signature stamp on traditional woodenware. “The best design advice I’ve heard is ‘remove any material that needn’t be there’,” he says. From his base just outside Westport, Éamonn (AKA Hewn) carves striking wooden spoons and utensils amid picturesque surroundings.
Éamonn outside his workshop
Having originally studied environmental science and ecology, Éamonn admits that his emergence as a craftsman is quite a departure, but that his work is inspired by the environment around him. “The thing about western Mayo is that, since it is pretty marginal farmland and has always been economically marginal, the story of the landscape hasn’t been totally painted over by intensive mechanised farming or big road projects,” he explains.
The first step and final result
Instilling a sense of character is important. “That’s exactly what I try to achieve with my spoons. They retain the marks from my tools. They include the knots and bends and imperfections of the tree. I can bring you to the spot where the tree grew. They have a story.”
While his handmade elm butter knives hold pride of place in the multiple Michelin star-awarded Aniar in Galway, wooden spoon carving isn’t exactly a new practice – in fact, it has been around longer than ceramic or steel production – and Éamonn regularly travels to museums in search of old examples of spoons.
A narrow teaspoon near completion
He favours a “clean and simple” aesthetic and cites birch, cherry and hawthorn as his favourite hardwoods to sculpt from. “It’s also important to look at the shape of the piece of wood and let it dictate some of the design decisions.” In line with this approach, Éamonn believes restraint to be a key part of his process, utilising traditional green woodworking techniques and just a few simple hand tools in the form of a handsaw, an axe, a straight knife, a crook knife and a pencil. No more, no less. As he puts it, achieving a grand result from a minimalist approach is the “ultimate satisfaction”.
A selection of Éamonn’s work
But why wood? “Wood is amazing,” says Éamonn. “It’s so versatile and strong and full of character. It has its own story too. I can tell you where every bit of timber I have originally grew. It’s still a joy to split open a piece of wood and reveal its life story, ring-by-ring, year-by-year. It’s like unwrapping a present.”
Words Dave Hanratty
Like this series? Pick up our July/August issue to see inside the studio of artist Lola Donoghue.